Elderly Elephant Dies After Carrying Tourists in Cambodia

The 50-year-old elephant reportedly experienced a heat-related death.

LONDON — -- An online petition to end elephant riding has reached more than 25,000 signatures after an elephant used to carry tourists in a Cambodian park collapsed and died.

Sambo, a 50-year-old female elephant, died last week because of the heat and high blood pressure, which led to choking and heart failure, park authorities said, citing the findings from one of the tourism agencies operating in the park.

"We regret that the beautiful and gentle Sambo has died and we are taking firm action to investigate fully and thoroughly what happened," a spokesman for Apsara Authority, which is in charge of research, protection and conservation at the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, northern Cambodia, wrote in an email.

As for "the Elephant Company's report, including the vet, that the elephant was dead due to hot weather and high blood pressure which led to choking and heart failure," the spokesman said in a statement, "the Apsara Authority is doing our own investigation to determine what really caused the death of the elephant."

Whatever the cause, animal rights activists have long criticized the use of elephants for tourism.

"There is no such thing as cruelty-free elephant rides," the Change.org petition statement says, adding: "What you don’t realize is that a ‘once in a lifetime’ or 'bucket list' item for you, means a lifetime of misery for wild animals."

The elephant was among several used by a conservation center called Compagnie des Elephants operating in Siem Reap, where the famous Angkor Vat temples are located. She had been working around 45 minutes, according to Agence France-Presse.

"This happens in Cambodia a few times each dry season," Jack Highwood of the Elephant Valley project told ABC News. "It is very hot here and elephants are wild animals. They should be in the cool shady forest and not working in the heat.

"There needs to be inspections, to check that they are being looked after correctly," he added. "In my opinion, elephants are wild animals and should not work."